The Kids Are All Right
Photo: Phile Deprez/Ontroerend Goed 2009
The thorniest thing about art that deals with the topic of adolescence is that it rarely does the thing it always purports it will do – present a daring, myth-busting insight into the real lives of teenagers. Instead, one usually gets more of the same - the struggle for individuation in the context of a stressful modern world. And, while the current performance in UCLA Live’s International Theater Festival does little to break that mold, it is nonetheless interesting to watch. The work is entitled Once and For All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen
and it is presented under the auspices of Ontroerend Goed
, a Belgian Theater company whose name loosely translates as “Feel Estate”. The hour long piece is unique in that it is written and performed by a group of 13 teenagers who cavort, extol, and amuse their way through a physical and structurally adept performance. The topic is adolescence and like all good theater about the young, its main asset is its energy and exuberance.
The performance begins with a row of chairs and the performers, entering one at a time, taking their place. They begin to interact with one another, goofing off, arguing, and generally horsing around in various combinations for about 10 minutes or so as music plays in the background. There's a lot to see; though, none of it necessarily amounts to anything out of the ordinary. Just as you begin to think that this is all there is, an alarm sounds and the actors rearrange their chairs and clean up their mess. Then the cycle repeats itself. However, with each repetition some organizing principle of the production is changed as the actors wander through sobering ballet inspired versions, or comic histrionic versions, or simply a dancing frenzy version of the same actions. The scene is deconstructed and then put back together in various ways that make the pointless activities of the scene appear bigger and more meaningful. In the final sequence, the scene is reenacted with everyone carrying giant versions of their props on the stage and eventually concludes with an exuberant mosh pit of activity. It's funny and visually interesting throughout.
But it never really breaks out of the mold. The repetition appears to be intended to represent the western conceptualization of adolescence that all of these real teens find themselves trapped in. They rebel, as teens are so often purported to do, in an effort to create a new world separate from that of their parents. But this hardly seems daring. Adolescents have really only existed since the Victorian age when the bourgeoisie decided there was a need to reclassify a whole group of people who had previously been considered adults mostly for reasons of political economy. But the show basically gives you little more intellectually than you might get from watching The Breakfast Club
on video. Despite it's protestations, Once and for All... is still mining the ore of the mythical rebellious teen at the expense of the everyday mundane and well-adjusted lives that most of them live. It does make attractive theater, though. The show runs through Saturday at the Freud Playhouse on the UCLA campus.
Labels: UCLA Live 09/10